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PFT's Week Two picks

[Editor's note:  Each week, Rosenthal and I will go head to head,
picking the winner of each game.  The guy who does worse each week gets
to be the one to copy and paste together the text the next week.  Last week, we tied.  The NBC Competition Committee decided that I should have to copy and paste it all together again.  And so I'll take the high road and accept the ruling.  In three days, after everyone applauds me for taking the high road, I'll bitch about it on the radio.]

[UPDATE:  As it turns out, we didn't tie.  Rosenthal won.  And I should have kept my damn mouth shut when I realized that he'd counted his victories incorrectly.]

Bills at Packers

Florio’s take:  In Week Two of the 2009 season, the Packers hosted an AFC team, and the AFC team stole a win.  In Win Two of the 2010 season, another AFC team comes to town.  But there’s a big difference between last year’s Bengals and this year’s Bills.  Even with Packers running back Ryan Grant done for the year, Green Bay has too much talent — and the Bills don’t have nearly enough.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 42, Bills 19.

Rosenthal’s take: This reminds me of the blowout specials Florio used to get to pick last year when we split the workload.  You could try to make a case for the Bills, but you’d be trying too hard.  Buffalo doesn’t have the receiver depth to test Green Bay’s secondary.  The Bills’ three-headed running game was oddly underused last week.  Their screens were predictable.  Holes closed on C.J. Spiller a lot faster than they did at Clemson or in the preseason.  Don’t expect daylight this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 27, Bills 10.

Dolphins at Vikings

Florio’s take:  The Vikings’ offense and the Dolphins’ defense cancel each other out.  So this one will come down to the ability of the Minnesota defense to bottle up the Miami offense.  Given that the Bills were able to keep the attack largely in check last week, the Vikings should have no problems shutting them down.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Dolphins 12.

Rosenthal’s take: Miami’s defense was impressive in Buffalo.  Mike Nolan did a lot of fun things with Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake; they can get pressure on Brett Favre. Even short a few players, this is an improved linebacker group.  Favre also may not be ready to take advantage of a Dolphins secondary that features Benny Sappy a little too prominently.  There’s an old axiom that you shouldn’t pick a team to cover the spread unless you think they can win. 5.5 points feels like too much.  So let’s just go all the way and take the Dolphins in an upset special.  (I changed this pick at the last minute, which is the kiss of death.)  [Editor's note:  Hey, Rosey, if you're gonna pick the upset, just pick the upset and be done with it.]

Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 23, Vikings 21.

Chiefs at Browns

Florio’s take:  With former Patriot Scott Pioli running the Chiefs and former Patriot turncoat Eric Mangini coaching the Browns, this one carries a strong undercurrent of hostility.  Then there’s the fact that Browns running back Jerome Harrison shredded the K.C. defense for 286 yards last December.  Look for the new-look Chiefs to bring their new attitude to Ohio, and to send the Browns to a loss in the second of two games that most expected Cleveland to win.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Browns 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Remember all the positive energy in Kansas City on Monday night?  Imagine that, but the complete opposite happening in Cleveland if the Browns fall behind Sunday.  Jake Delhomme’s injury doesn’t hurt the Browns, though.  Seneca Wallace is different, and could force the Browns coaches to get creative with a roster that begs for creativity to make up for a lack of talent.  Eric Mangini can’t afford to lose the Belichick B-team Bowl after last week’s collapse in Tampa.  Romeo Crennel knows just how to lose in Cleveland.

Rosenthal’s pick: Browns 17, Chiefs 14.

Bears at Cowboys

Florio’s take:  The Bears lucked into a win at home and the Cowboys squandered a victory of their own on the road.  This week, the Cowboys head back to Dallas, 25 years after the Bears authored a 44-0 beatdown of the ‘Boys.  The Bears haven’t won in Big D since the year after that game — and their streak of futility will continue.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Bears 10.

Rosenthal’s take: No clue what to make of the Bears after last week.   Jay Cutler moved the ball very well, Matt Forte is revived, and the defense stuffed Detroit all day.  Yet they still needed a lucky call to save them from an opening loss at home.  The Cowboys are easier to read.  Their offensive line has problems and they know it.  The defense is great.  Will the return of two injured, older starting lineman be enough to turn things around?  It’s enough this week.

Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 24, Bears 20.

Cardinals at Falcons

Florio’s take:  The Cards barely beat a still-bad Rams team last week, and the Falcons gave fits to the Steelers on their home field.  Atlanta realizes that the window will close quickly if they can’t keep pace with the Saints.  Besides, Falcons are far more menacing birds.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Cardinals 20.

Rosenthal’s take: Arizona fans complaining about style points last week need to get a grip.  Kurt Warner has left the building.  This is a different Cardinals team, and they are going to have to win creatively while Derek Anderson figures things out. The guy led two impressive fourth-quarter drives last week and that will do for now.  Matt Ryan, on the other hand, has struggled to move the ball since the preseason.  I think Atlanta’s improved defense carries the day here.  Both these teams deserve to be 1-1. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 19, Cardinals 14. 

Buccaneers at Panthers

Florio’s take:  Since 2003, the Panthers have handled the Bucs on 11 of 14 occasions.  Though Tampa pulled off a minor surprise on Sunday against the Browns, the Panthers can be expected to take care of business on their own turf.  If they can’t, Carolina could be 0-5 at the bye.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Buccaneers 14.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bucs have a golden opportunity to go 2-0, even if Panthers starting quarterback Matt Moore plays as expected despite a concussion last week.  Raheem Morris has the Bucs defense looking improved, like they did at the end of last year.  These two similar teams fly well below the NFL radar and got against current league norms.  They want to win with running, defense, and not screwing things up too badly passing the ball.  John Fox has more practice.  And better running backs. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Panthers 20, Bucs 13.

Eagles at Lions

Florio’s take:  With Mike Vick making his first start since 2006, the question becomes whether he can play like he did against the Packers, who weren’t prepared to face him, when facing a Lions team that knows Vick will be the guy.  Lions coach Jim Schwartz never has had to defend Vick; when Schwartz served as defensive coordinator for the Titans, Schwartz’s team was the last one to play the Falcons before Vick returned from a broken leg.  Look for Schwartz to try to keep Vick in the pocket in the hopes that he’ll be forced to throw — and that he’ll force a few mistakes.  And then Kevin Kolb will get “healthy” quickly.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 20, Eagles 13.

Rosenthal’s take: The battle of the tortured fan bases.  The rest of the world learned about what it meant to be a Lions fan this week.  Week One, full of hope, they lost their young franchise quarterback and a game in the most painful way possible.  The Lions have a vertical passing attack with the weakest-armed quarterback in the league in Shaun Hill.  Eagles fans have it pretty good, but they like drama.  They talked up Kevin Kolb all offseason, then gave up on him after 30 minutes.  It’s hard to blame them after the way Michael Vick played last week.  Vick will put it to the Lions just to make this whole situation more ridiculous.

Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 27, Lions 16.

Ravens at Bengals

Florio’s take:  The Bengals somehow swept the Ravens last year.  It won’t be happening again in 2010.  Baltimore looks as good as they ever have looked, and the Bengals looked nothing like they looked a year ago.  Look for Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis to continue to drop the hammer on anyone who looks in his direction.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 23, Bengals 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bengals defense said they were confused early against the Patriots.  So were guys like Tedy Bruschi that picked Cincinnati to go to the Super Bowl.  At least the Bengals passing attack showed signs of life after the early disaster.  It may have been garbage time, but Carson Palmer couldn’t put up big stats any time last year.  Unlike the Jets, Cincinnati has the weapons to take advantage of Baltimore’s secondary.

Rosenthal’s pick: Bengals 27, Ravens 23.

Steelers at Titans

Florio’s take:  Last year, these two teams kicked off a season that many assumed would end in a playoff rematch.  Neither qualified for the postseason.  This year, both look like they’re on their way to another trip to January.  It all comes down to the Steelers defense against the Titans offense, and the Steelers defense is simply too tough.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Titans 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Titans were my pick to win the AFC South in the PFT Season Preview, so I’m basically going to take them at home unless they are facing the ’85 Bears.  The Steelers defense isn’t at that level, but it could wind up being the best in 2010.  Pittsburgh can neutralize Chris Johnson — they held him to 57 yards in last year’s opener.  So it will come down Vince Young versus Dennis Dixon and Young should be up for the challenge. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 14, Steelers 10.

Seahawks at Broncos

Florio’s take:  Former Broncos quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who was essentially run off when Josh McDaniels became the head coach, returns to town with a team that unexpectedly won in Week One by 25 points.  But it’s one thing to put a pasting on the 49ers at home in the season opener, it’s quite another to do it in Denver.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 24, Seahawks 17.

Rosenthal’s take: These teams that are a total mystery, especially the Seahawks.  Can Seattle play so inspired without the 12th man?  What is this team good at precisely?  It looks like Pete Carroll is going to make this defense better and more interesting.  The offense has work to do.  In Denver, I know what I’m getting from Kyle Orton and his band of merry secondary receivers.  The Broncos can beat suspect NFC West teams at home.

Rosenthal’s pick: Broncos 28, Seahawks 21.

Rams at Raiders

Florio’s take:  The Rams looked better than expected in Week One; the Raiders looked far worse.  But Oakland is at home and the Rams are still learning how to win.  Though neither team will be embarrassed, look for the Raiders to take care of business in the Black Hole.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 17, Rams 10.

Rosenthal’s take: The optimism stops here for one of these teams. The Raiders wouldn’t be able to sell progress after a blowout loss on the road and a home loss to the Rams.  Sam Bradford has given the Rams hope for the future, but the present looks awfully bleak if they go 0-2 with a soft opening schedule.  Two Raiders, including Jason Campbell, alluded to being overconfident heading into the Titans game.  You know, because of their draft grades.  Losing 11 or more games for seven years hasn’t humbled this franchise.  Maybe losing to the Rams will. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 21, Raiders 17.

Texans at Redskins

Florio’s take:  The reunion of the Shanahans and Gary Kubiak adds intrigue to a game that suddenly has become one of the best of the weekend give the teams’ performances in Week One.  We’ll quickly find out whether Houston tailback Arian Foster rolled up all those yards because he played against a bad run defense or because the Texans have become the ultimate “pick your poison” pass/run attack.  And we’ll find out whether the Redskins’ offense can score a touchdown or two without having it handed to them.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Redskins 24.

Rosenthal’s take: Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak are road favorites coming off a huge win. This is exactly the game they usually trip over, which worries me. Also worrisome:  Every aspect of the Redskins offense except their tackle play.  (How odd is that?)  Washington just doesn’t have enough firepower to hang with Houston, who should give Arian Foster a break and only rush him 25 times this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 24, Redskins 17.

Patriots at Jets

Florio’s take:  During an offseason of incessant Jets chirping, the Patriots have remained largely silent.  Apart from Tom Brady’s acknowledgement that he hates the Jets, the Pats have avoided the trash talk.  Instead, the Patriots have saved it for the field, and the Jets may have a hard time saving themselves as the Pats make the only kind of statement that truly matters in football.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Jets 13.

Rosenthal’s take: What goes up in the NFL usually comes down. And vice versa.  An overconfident team loses one week, gets ripped, and plays hungry the next time out.  Last year, Rex Ryan called the Jets’ Week Two game against the Patriots the team’s Super Bowl.  This one is far more important.  The Jets know they can’t go 0-2 at home to start the year. The Jets defense still looks great. The offense can find a way on the ground.  Don’t crown the Patriots yet; this will be a season-long battle.



Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 20, Patriots 16.

Jaguars at Chargers

Florio’s take:  Most expected one of these teams to be 1-0 and the other to be 0-1; few expected that the Jaguars would be undefeated and that the Chargers would be winless.  Though it may feel like a home game for the Jaguars since the stadium will be partially empty (rim shot!), the Chargers have the horses to get back to 1-1 against a Jaguars team that overachieved against the Broncos.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Jaguars 21.

Rosenthal’s take: The Chargers talked all offseason about avoiding yet another slow start to the year, and then slogged through a loss in the Kansas City rain.  Weather should be more conducive to vertical passing in San Diego this week. I don’t trust either secondary or either pass rush, even if Aaron Kampman looks like a fine pickup.  I’ll take Philip Rivers in a shootout over David Garrard every time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 34, Jaguars 26.
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Giants at Colts

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning has started 0-1 only three times in his 13-year career.  Only once, as a rookie in 1998, has Peyton Manning begun a season at 0-2.  This time around, Peyton takes an 0-1 mark into his second career game against his kid brother.  And more importantly than not going 0-2 to Peyton will be avoiding losing to Eli.  Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 31, Giants 19.

Rosenthal’s take: Both brothers have grown up a lot since the last Manning Bowl.  Peyton won a Super Bowl and did the United Way spot on Saturday Night Live.  Eli won a Super Bowl, got significantly better after the title, and adjusted his Southern fraternity mop top.  That makes this a fair fight, especially if the Giants pass rush has truly reawakened.  Fair, but not equal.  Peyton is still the one with MVPs and Peyton doesn’t start the year 0-2.

Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 34, Giants 30.

Saints at 49ers

Florio’s take:  Rarely if ever has a team with high expectations imploded as quickly as the 49ers.  They open their home schedule with a visit from the Saints, who will have had the longest possible non-bye-week time to prepare for the game, playing on a Thursday and next on the following Monday, 11 days later.  After the game, Niners coach Mike Singletary will be thanking Sean Payton in the same way Singletary thanked Pete Carroll.  

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, 49ers 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Weirdly dangerous game for the Saints against an ornery 49ers team.  New Orleans fans don’t like that I questioned their run defense this week, but one game doesn’t erase all of last season and a shaky linebacker group.  Luckily, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn’t have to get too creative to stop Alex Smith and the 49ers passing attack.  Load up the box, and dare Smith to beat you.  The Saints are in Payton/Brees version 5.0.  The essentially can do anything they choose with a veteran group of receivers.  The 49ers can’t get the play calls in on time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 27, 49ers 21.

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Panthers optimistic about Kelvin Benjamin’s MRI

Kelvin Benjamin AP

Losing Kelvin Benjamin would be a potential disaster for the Panthers.

So the fact they’re not freaking out about his “precautionary MRI” is probably a good sign.

Benjamin was sent back to Charlotte for tests after banging knees with a teammate Sunday afternoon. He finished practice and signed autographs afterward, so there was no early sign of panic.

“It could just be one of those things where if he had iced it right away and not finished [Sunday’s] practice, maybe it would have been better,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Black and Blue Review. “If it’s negative we’ll just keep on rolling. I’m optimistic that is what it’s going to be.”

There’s also some video of Benjamin riding around campus on a comically small minibike (or maybe he’s just so big it looks like something a clown would ride in the circus).

“We want to be smart with it,” Rivera said. “He came in this morning and [head trainer Ryan Vermillion] just wanted to be careful with him.”

They need to be, since he’s got the most potential to become a big-play threat of any of the Panthers’ odd lot of receivers.

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Giants want Eli Manning to complete 70 percent of his passes

eli AP

The Giants are setting a high goal for Eli Manning’s completion percentage this season. A very high goal.

Giants quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf told reporters today that he wants Manning to reach a 70 percent completion rate this season.

Frankly, that’s preposterous. Manning completed just 57.5 percent of his passes last season, and his career completion percentage is 58.5 percent. The highest rate he’s ever had in any season was 2010, when he completed 62.9 percent of his passes. Unless the Giants are planning an offense that consists of nothing more than dump-offs to running backs, the idea that a career 58.5 percent passer is suddenly going to become a 70 percent passer is silly.

A 70 percent completion rate has only been reached five times in NFL history: Twice by Drew Brees and once each by Ken Anderson, Steve Young and Joe Montana. It’s less common than a 5,000-yard passing season or a 2,000-yard rushing season.

Maybe the Giants also have a goal for Rashad Jennings to rush for 2,000 yards this year. But that goal wouldn’t be any more unrealistic than Manning completing 70 percent of his passes.

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PFT Live: Jets talk with Manish Mehta, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Rex Ryan AP

PFT Live is back this Monday with your daily dose of football news and information and we’ll be kicking things off with a look at Jets training camp.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News will join Mike Florio for a discussion of how things are shaping up for Rex Ryan’s sixth season as the team’s head coach. Mehta will give us the latest on the Geno Smith/Michael Vick competition for the quarterback job, first-round pick Calvin Pryor’s concussion and the other notable developments from the first few days of practice.

All 32 teams are in camp, so there’s plenty to talk about around the rest of the league as well. PFT Planet can let us know which areas are of the most interest by sending in questions for Florio on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or by giving a call to 888-237-5269 during the show.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Lions activate Golden Tate from PUP list

Golden Tate AP

The Lions opened up training camp without wide receiver Golden Tate on the practice field as a result of a shoulder injury that he suffered during the spring, but Tate was sure that he’d be an active participant before too much more of the summer was gone.

Tate was proven correct on Monday. The Lions have activated him from the Physically Unable to Perform list and the team’s biggest free agent addition is expected to take part in his first camp practice as a member of the Lions.

Tate’s return to practice will allow him to speed up the process of familiarizing himself with the offense being installed by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi this offseason. Coach Jim Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press, that quarterback Matthew Stafford has shown good command of the offense and getting the guys catching his passes on the same page will be an important next step of the process in Detroit.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah and rookie wide receiver T.J. Jones remain on the PUP list as the Lions open up their first full week of camp.

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Chip Kelly: Draft hype is worst thing about the NFL

2014 NFL Draft Getty Images

There’s no question that the NFL loves the draft and all they hype that goes along with it.

They’ve added days to the process, moved it to prime time and pushed it further back in the calendar to expand the amount of eyes taking in the move from college to the pros for the top prospects in the land. They spend plenty of time and money to promote the event each year and get even more free publicity from around the country as mock drafts and draftniks help whet everyone’s appetite for the selections, a hyperbolic process that inevitably leads to huge expectations for players a few years removed from high school.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly has gone through the process twice on the NFL side and he doesn’t share the league’s fondness for the event.

“What’s the worst thing about the league? I said the draft. I mean, the hype that goes into the draft is insane. Totally insane,” Kelly said, via Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “The biggest thing for me is that everybody thinks whoever you drafted or whoever you signed is now gonna be a savior. They come in just like me and you come in as freshmen in high school or freshmen in college, or your first year on the job at Sports Illustrated – you’re not telling people what to do, you’re just trying to figure out what room to go to.”

“I think a lot of times the hype turns into really, really hard times for the individual who got picked, because there’s so many expectations of everyone building them up to be Superman because they had three months to write about them and talk about them. Then when they get picked, they’re a very, very good prospect, but there’s a learning curve when you go from any job out of college into a company. If you take a job at Wells Fargo when you get out of college, your first day of the job they don’t say, ‘He’s our first-round draft pick, he’s the savior to the company!’”

Kelly went on to add the NFLPA’s Rookie Premiere event, post-draft grades and just about everything short of the food in the Eagles’ war room onto the list of things he doesn’t like about the draft process. Kelly’s either going to have to grin and bear it or find somewhere else to coach, though.

While the draft came into existence as a way for teams to add young players to their rosters, it has gradually become a television show devoted to promoting the league and a new crop of future stars. That creates an industry for people trying to make it seem like there’s a science, rather than educated guessing, to picking 21-year-olds who will become great 26-year-old football players and a message that the moves made over seven rounds in the spring can profoundly change the fortunes of a team in the fall.

With those conditions in place, hype is an unavoidable byproduct and it is one that isn’t going anywhere.

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Buccaneers sweating it out this training camp

Buccaneers Camp Football AP

Most of the other teams in the steamy part of the country are going early or late (or to West Virginia) to avoid the heat.

But the Buccaneers are charging right into the teeth of it, practicing in the swelter of the afternoon.

According to JoeBucsFan.com, the heat index for today’s 1 p.m. practice is scheduled to hit 100 degrees.

 

Bucs coach Lovie Smith has talked about using the heat to play into their home field advantage this fall, and most of their practices are scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are having most of their workouts in the morning, while the Saints headed to the mountains of West Virginia where the conditions are fall-like.
We’ll see if it works to Smith’s advantage this year, or whether his team is wiped out in camp and has little left for the regular season.

 

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Stephen A. Smith apologizes for his “provocation” remarks

Smith Getty Images

On Friday’s edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith embraced something far more than debate by suggesting in connection with the Ray Rice suspension that female victims of domestic abuse need to be careful to avoid provoking the men in their lives to commit violence.  The comments drew a very strong reaction, including pointed comments on Twitter from ESPN’s Michelle Beadle, who said among other things after watching Friday’s show, “I’ll never feel clean again” and “I’m now aware that I can provoke my own beating.”

Smith responded by clumsily attempting to explain himself on Twitter, but in reality digging in deep enough that he eventually deleted the stream of tweets and posted a lengthy apology.

To launch Monday’s edition of First Take, Smith delivered what seemed to be a heartfelt apology, apology while reading from a teleprompter.

“Good morning,” Smith began.  “On Friday, speaking right here on First Take on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career.  While elaborating on thoughts concerning the NFL’s ruling versus Ray Rice, following a domestic dispute with his then fiancee, I ventured beyond the scope of our discussion by alluding to a woman’s role in such heinous matters, going so far as to use the word ‘provoke’ in my diatribe.  My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault.  This was not my intent.  It is not what I was trying to say.  Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders.  To say what I actually said was foolish is an understatement.  To say I was wrong is obvious.  To apologize, to say I’m sorry, doesn’t do the matter its proper justice to be quite honest.”

Based on his grave delivery of that line, I actually wondered whether the next comment would be that he’s stepping down, for a week or a month or forever. That’s not the case.

“But I do sincerely apologize,” Smith continued.  “As a man raised by the greatest mother in the world and four older sisters, I’ve religiously spoken out against domestic violence all of my life.  I’ve done so repeatedly over 20 years in this business, as well as over these very airwaves.  Right here on First Take.  My primary reason for doing so is because I’ve experienced and dealt with the matter within my own family.  Unfortunately, I did an incredibly poor job of asserting my point of view last Friday.  For that, again, I am truly, truly sorry.  Particularly to victims of domestic abuse and to my female family members and loved ones I’ve disappointed and who know I know better, you all deserved a better professional and quite frankly a better man last Friday sitting on this very set, in this very chair.  My heartfelt apologies to each and every one of you.”

Smith paused and looked down for dramatic effect before saying “in this very chair,” which made me think of another guy who said something stupid about Donovan McNabb in one of the various chairs at ESPN roughly 11 years ago.  That guy was dumped.  Smith wasn’t.

While the situations may be distinguishable in many ways, ESPN has shown a hair trigger in the past when it comes to suspending on-air talent for a week or two.  Smith apparently won’t be suspended or otherwise disciplined.

“We will continue to have constructive dialogue on this important topic,” ESPN said in a statement released after Smith’s on-air apology.  “Stephen’s comments last Friday do not reflect our company’s point of view.  As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.”

We’ll leave it for others to argue whether Smith should or shouldn’t be fired or suspended.  But his remarks were clearly wrong.  When it comes to domestic violence, there’s no “last straw” that justifies an attack.  Disengage from the argument.  Run away, to a stream of insults if need be.  Assume a defensive posture as a last resort.  But find a way out before it ever gets to the point where anyone could even begin to think that the actions of another justify something like an uppercut to the chin.

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NFL V.P. Adolpho Birch struggles to justify Ray Rice suspension

Ray Rice AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not yet spoken publicly on the controversial two-game suspension given to Ravens running back Ray Rice for assaulting his wife. But one of Goodell’s top deputies, NFL V.P. of labor policy and government affairs Adolpho Birch, went on the radio this morning in an attempt to explain. It did not go well.

Birch’s appearance on this morning’s Mike & Mike was so bad — so totally incapable of justifying the relatively light punishment handed to Rice — that host Mike Greenberg felt the need after the interview to address the listeners who had contacted the show to express their frustration with Birch’s evasions. Greenberg said he was frustrated by Birch’s evasions, too.

“I’m a little taken aback by the conversation, to be honest with you. The reaction is overwhelming and no one seems to think that he did a particularly good job of answering the questions,” Greenberg said minutes after the interview with Birch ended. “I do not feel that most people listening to that discussion feel they got an adequate explanation of how they arrived at two games.”

So how did the NFL arrive at two games for Rice? Well, Birch didn’t really have much of an answer. At one point he said the NFL was “bound in large part by precedent in prior cases.” But Birch said that just moments after insisting that prior cases — particularly the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger after he was accused of (but not criminally charged with) sexual assault — couldn’t be compared to the Rice case.

Birch also refused to answer whether the NFL is aware of information that isn’t available to the general public, such as surveillance camera footage beyond what has been widely distributed showing Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancee out of an elevator. But Birch insisted that a two-game suspension without pay isn’t a minor punishment.

“It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior,” Birch said.

But the question isn’t whether the NFL condones a player beating up his wife. The question is whether the NFL is willing to take severe disciplinary actions against a player who beats up his wife. And the answer to that question is a resounding, “No.” The NFL hands out longer suspensions for everything from getting caught smoking pot repeatedly, to taking Adderall without filling out the necessary paperwork to — in the case of Roethlisberger — being accused of crimes without any arrests or charges. For the NFL to come down harder on pot smokers, Adderall users and players who weren’t evan arrested than it came down on Rice is baffling and requires an explanation.

Birch may have been trying to explain, but he failed. Greenberg said that in the minutes after the interview, the show got thousands of reactions via Twitter and email and that, “I can’t find a single one of them that said, ‘Well, that explained it for me.’ Literally not a single one.”

After Birch’s unsuccessful attempt to to explain the suspension, it’s time for Goodell to step up. NFL fans want to know why Ray Rice got off easy, and they want to hear it from Goodell.

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Ray Rice doesn’t appeal suspension, fine

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer AP

There are plenty of people who felt that the league did not impose the proper discipline on Ravens running back Ray Rice last week when they suspended him for two games and fined him an additional game check from the 2013 season in response to Rice’s February arrest for assaulting his wife and subsequent entry into a pre-trial diversion program.

The reaction of those people, most of whom saw the footage of Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator, has been that Rice was not punished severely enough by a league that they feel has imposed harsher discipline on others for less egregious offenses.

Rice is not among the displeased. He had three days to appeal the penalty, but Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that window closed without Rice making any attempt to plead his case for a lighter penalty. Given the overwhelmingly negative response to the league’s initial decision and their actions in comparable situations, Rice probably didn’t have much chance of getting the penalty reduced and reacted accordingly.

That means he’ll miss the first two games of the season, but will be able to participate in training camp and preseason games before the suspension kicks in.

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Kelvin Benjamin getting a “precautionary MRI”

Kelvin Benjamin AP

The Panthers added a bunch of guys to their receiving corps this offseason, pinning much of the hope on first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin.

Now, they have to hope he’s well.

The Panthers announced this morning that Benjamin was “getting a precautionary MRI” after banging knees with a teammate in practice yesterday.

Benjamin wasn’t going to replace veteran Steve Smith immediately anyway, but if he’s out any amount of time, they could be in real trouble throwing the ball.

Though they’ll go two-tight end more (or maybe three), their next-best options at wide receiver are Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery.

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Redskins sign Everette Brown

Drew Brees, Everette Brown AP

Everette Brown has landed with yet another NFC East club.

According to ESPN’s John Keim, the Redskins have reached a deal with the 26-year-old Brown, who likely will play outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 scheme.

Brown (6-1, 263) appeared in seven games for Dallas in 2013, recording 10 tackles and one sack. The Cowboys released him earlier in the offseason. Brown has also spent time with Carolina (2009-2011), San Diego (2011-2012), Detroit (2012) and Philadelphia (2013). Overall, Brown has played in 38 regular season games, notching seven sacks.

A Florida State product, the Panthers selected Brown in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, trading a 2010 first-round selection to San Francisco in the process.

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Panthers offensive lineman Travelle Wharton to retire

Jacksonville Jaguars v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Longtime Panthers guard Travelle Wharton might not have shrunk quite like his old teammate Jordan Gross, but he’s going to have the opportunity.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Wharton will announce his retirement Tuesday at a press conference at Panthers training camp.

The 2004 third-round pick spent most of his 10 years in the NFL with the Panthers, coming back last year as an injury replacement and playing fairly well.

But he ultimately decided not to try that route again, and will likely join Gross on the sidelines, getting skinny.

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PFT on NBCSN, PFT Live return today

NBCUniversal Logos

Now that that Tour de France thing is over, Pro Football Talk returns to NBCSN.  We’re back on the air at 5:30 p.m. ET, with Kevin Gilbride and Brian Westbrook in studio, along with today’s co-host, Dave Briggs.

Before that, I’ll get back on the non-Tour de France thing bike with PFT Live, the web show that streams right here (click the box in the right rail), featuring a visit from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and your Twitter questions at phone calls.

PFT Live starts at noon ET.  Which means I have to shower and shave a lot earlier than I have at any time during the last three weeks, when frankly there hasn’t been much showering and/or shaving.

The best news is that I should be able to sleep inside the house tonight.

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Steven Jackson bought into his own hype last season

Steven Jackson AP

Steven Jackson was used to carrying a bad Rams team, so it’s perhaps natural he thought he’d be the thing that pushed an already good Falcons team over the top.

Instead, the season was as much of a disaster for him as for them, with his streak of 1,000-yard seasons ending at eight, and the Falcons falling miserably to 4-12.

“There were quite a few of the years in St. Louis when I shouldered a large burden, and I knew going into every season what I was going into,” Jackson said, via Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When I came here last year, I kind of believed my own hype. The team was so close to going to the Super Bowl, and I thought I was going to be the missing link. Then reality slaps you. It’s still a team sport.

“This year I know I don’t have to shoulder the burden of carrying the franchise. I’m not the missing piece, I’m just one piece. I feel comfortable knowing that I can still compete at a high level. But all of the unnecessary stress is gone.”

The Falcons actually need Jackson to be a bigger piece this year. With tight end Tony Gonzalez retired, there’s a big offensive void that someone needs to fill.

Being well would be a good first step, since Jackson’s career-low numbers last year were attributed to a hamstring problem that bothered him throughout. But the Falcons also fixed their disaster of an offensive line, so the cumulative result should be a better chance for Jackson to get back to being himself.

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Chris Rainey cut for disciplinary reasons, not football reasons

raineypagano AP

For the second time in his brief NFL career, running back Chris Rainey has been cut for off-field reasons.

Rainey was cut by the Colts today for violating team rules, Adam Schefter ‏of ESPN reports. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star adds that the release is conduct related and that head coach Chuck Pagano plans to provide more details.

What’s clear is that the decision was not about Rainey’s performance on the football field at training camp, which is consistent with what Pagano has been saying about Rainey: Pagano raved over the weekend about how much he likes Rainey, and when running back Vick Ballard was lost for the season with a knee injury, it appeared that Rainey would play an important role on the team as a backup running back as well as a kick returner.

Instead, Rainey has been released for something he did off the field. We don’t know exactly what that “something” was, but we do know that this has happened to Rainey before: The Steelers cut him shortly after his rookie year ended following an arrest on a charge of battery against his girlfriend. Now that Rainey has blown his second chance with the Colts, he’ll have to hope some team is willing to give him a third chance.

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